Sunday, March 9, 2014

Trials in Track and Field

Today's post is going to be long and probably pretty boring for anyone reading it. But it is a really important lesson I learned, and I am only now starting to realize how much it has meant to me.

I competed in track from 7th grade through my senior year of high school. It is still one of my favorite sports (tied with soccer) and I had a blast doing it every year. Except my senior year. And here's why:

"My event" in track was always the triple jump. For those of you who don't know what that is, the triple jump basically is a hop, a skip, then a jump. I don't really want to get into it, so if you're still curious just look it up.

In middle school, I was pretty good at triple jump. No prodigy by any means, but I won pretty much every meet I competed at, and at our All League (the final and biggest track meet in middle school) I got first in the triple jump. I absolutely loved the event. When I got to high school (9th grade), I was now competing against girls four years older than I was and was no longer the best. Which I was ok with. I knew I was just a freshman and I had a lot of time to improve. I had a great coach and a great team, and I was confident about my future in the sport.

My freshman year went pretty well. I hit some great personal goals and was happy with my season. My sophomore year was even better: I hit more PRs (personal records), qualified for an elite meet Washington State holds every year, and placed at both regionals and districts. My main goal for my high school career was to make it to state. I didn't care if I placed at state or not, I just wanted to get there. And after my sophomore season, I was sure without a doubt I could do it. If I progressed anything like I did that past year, I would qualify easily.

That's when things started getting tough. I had a really, really great coach my freshman and sophomore year, but he was a college student and his schedule my junior year conflicted too much with track, and he could no longer coach. I was sad and pretty worried- coaches are a huge part of any sport, and it had taken me a long time to develop a relationship with mine since I don't let people in very easily. My bond with my coach had definitely attributed to my success in track.

My new coach my junior year was a really, really great guy. He didn't have a lot of experience in jumping which was kind of hard, but he got me into the best shape of my life. It was just different not having my old coach, and I couldn't connect to this guy the same way. He was really nice and funny, but it just wasn't the same. My junior year's season wasn't terrible. I didn't make much progress the first half of the season, but I PR'd by ten inches after spring break and hit that PR a few other times after that. I still made it through districts, and I can't remember exactly what place I got at regionals, but I once again did not qualify for state. I was disappointed, but I had the hope of one more season.

My senior year of high school, I once again got a new track coach after my previous one moved across the state. This guy was amazing as well- he cared a lot about each of us and he was an awesome guy. He knew a little more about track, but still not a ton about triple jump and he was the head coach on top of everything, which meant he had to devote his attention to a lot of other people. Going into my senior year, my only goal was to qualify for state. Though my junior year had not gone as well as I had hoped, I was still confident that if I improved about as much as I did the year before I could make it. It would be hard, but I could do it.

So I threw myself into preparing and training. I ran and lifted weights all summer and winter, I ate healthy, and I felt very prepared in the spring. Every year during track I always get shin splints (essentially the muscle by your shin begins to peel away from the bone- gross, yes, and very painful) but by now I had just learned to live with them. This year, however, to add to my pain I got some sort of injury in my foot early in the season. I never found out exactly what it was, and neither did the physical therapist I went to twice a week to have it wrapped. Whatever the diagnosis, it was extremely painful and affected my jumping a lot, which was very frustrating. I was in constant pain during track pretty much from week one.

And physical pain wasn't the only kind I experienced. After a few meets, my confidence was wavering. I hadn't performed well at all and I needed to get my act together if I was going to compete at state. Then my new coach informed me that one of my best friends, an incredible athlete who is now on the track team at MSU, was going to compete in triple jump with me for a little while. He assured me though, that he wouldn't have her compete at regionals because we both knew she would be better than me. I didn't think this would be a big deal, and when my friend approached me about it with concern, I told her it was totally ok. And it was for me, as long as I could have districts to myself. She could compete in any event in track and qualify for state, so she was fine with this as well.

However, it was a little harder than I thought. At every meet, even if I didn't hit my PR, I was still the best triple jumper on the team, which helped me feel more optimistic about the future. I had a really bad problem with ruining my meet mentally, so every little thing helped. But now that I wasn't jumping well and I wasn't the best on the team, what little confidence I had left was dwindling quickly. Every meet was just pain and failure. I think I cried more during that season than I ever had in my entire life. But at the end of each day I would tell myself I could do it, that there was no way I wouldn't make it to state. I prayed about it constantly, at this point hoping for a miracle.

As districts grew near, I tried as hard as I could to be optimistic. Though I hadn't even hit my PR the entire season, I still had that tiny bit of hope that I could do it. I had heard stories like mine, where an athlete busts out this huge performance at the last second and accomplishes his or her goals after working so hard towards them. I knew I could be that athlete. At least my friend, who was predictably beating me every time, wouldn't be competing against me so I didn't have to go through that particular failure again.

But once again life went a different direction than what I had hoped. The week before districts my coach approached me and told me for college prospects, my friend should compete at districts in the triple jump. While my mind was yelling in frustration and overcome with doubt, I smiled politely and said of course that would be ok. I'm not mad anymore, and I shouldn't have been then either. I wasn't planning on competing in track in college, and this was going to help my friend in her future. My coach was making the smartest decision.

At districts, I was disappointed in my performance during the season, but I was confident even with a bad jump I could make it to regionals. I jumped really terribly, and almost didn't make it to regionals, but somehow managed to just get in. I also made it for the long jump, but all I cared about was triple.

At regional, I was a nervous wreck. This was my last chance, ever, to make it to state. I had zero confidence and I was literally praying the entire day. I ate as often as I should have, I drank plenty of water, I rested, I warmed up properly, and I was as ready as I ever could be when my event began. In any jumping events in track, you get three jumps, and at large meet the top eight make it finals, and get three more jumps. My first three jumps didn't go well, but I made it to finals which was good. I jumped once, and it was poor. I jumped again, and it was even worse. As I did some drills I shut everything out and thought about how this is literally the last chance I would ever have to reach my goal. I had one more jump. I stepped onto the track and stared down the runway. Friends, family, and coaches all lined the area, shouting encouraging remarks and wishing me the best. This was it, I thought, this is going to happen. I sprinted down the runway as fast as I possibly could and when I reached the line I jumped with all the strength I could muster. I landed in the pit, my legs giving out beneath me. I paused a moment to catch my breath, and looked back to see my distance.

It was not a good jump. I wasn't going to state.

I didn't really comprehend what had happened for a few minutes. My coach and my friends knew that I liked to be alone after not performing well, so they let me be as I took off my spikes, changed into my tennis shoes, and walked back to our team tent. When I got to the tent, a person who hadn't seen my mark asked how I did. That was when it all hit me. I completely broke down, probably making that person very uncomfortable. I turned around and walked quickly away to search for somewhere I could be alone. I found a few trees, sat down, and cried for about an hour. I was devastated. I was angry and frustrated and disappointed and I couldn't believe this had happened. I worked so hard for this, and there was no reason I shouldn't have made it to state. Now that was never going to happen.

I tried not to be angry with Heavenly Father, but honestly I was for a while. I prayed every single day about track, and I felt like this was something I deserved. It just wasn't fair.

It didn't get easier for a while. The state meet was only a week away, so the whole school was full of students and teachers congratulating the competitors. We had a state send-off assembly where I got to see many of my friends stand proudly in front of the entire school as I tried not to cry. Every day that week was a challenge to keep the tears inside. My coach graciously invited me to ride the bus with the athletes to the state meet, and I still wanted to support my friends and little brother (who also qualified- another incident that was really hard for me) so I accepted.

At the state track meet I watched my friends compete, some placing and others not, but all doing very well. I saw my friend compete in the triple jump (she has easily qualified for state) and do really great. She also got first place in the high jump, and placed in a couple of relays. I saw my little brother get a first place medal in the 4X400 relay. But aside from this, I saw hundreds and hundreds of athletes who were all better than I was, who had achieved a goal I had failed to reach.

While I was sitting in the stands watching an event, one of my cross country coaches came and sat beside me. He is a man a respect greatly, and he has influenced me so much and so positively. I will always be grateful for him. He commented that I was a little quiet and asked what was on my mind. I tried not to cry as I said something like, "It's just hard. And it doesn't seem fair." He had attended many of our track meets, so he knew exactly what I was talking about. Then he told me something I will never forget. He explained to me that he had a very similar experience while he was in high school, something I did not know. He said that he too felt discouraged and upset, and he wasn't sure why it had happened. "It took me a long time, but eventually I realized there were some great lessons I could learn from that experience," he said. "You may not see it right away, but I think you'll learn a lot from this." I certainly hadn't felt anything positive from this trial yet, but I really trusted this man and from that moment I made it my new goal to begin looking for that lesson.

A few weeks later, I was still frustrated and upset. But I was about to graduate from high school and I didn't want to go out on such a low note. So I thought and I thought about what I could learn, what good I could possibly get out of this experience. Then I looked at my bed an saw my scriptures. Suddenly I felt so stupid. I had spent all this time being angry with God, and that got me absolutely nowhere. I needed to thank Him for letting me compete, and I needed His help in figuring this situation out. So that time when I sat down and prayed, I told Heavenly Father that I could not longer do this by myself. I was in a lot of pain and I was confused and I needed His help in figuring out what I could learn from.

It was absolutely incredible the feeling I got. It was like a weight had literally been lifted from my shoulders. I felt SO much better. My mind suddenly flooded with thoughts and lessons I got from track.

1. Work hard at everything you do. I didn't achieve my final goal, but I reached a lot of smaller ones which was very rewarding.

2. I made so many friends during track, and built a lot of really good relationships with people.

3. You don't have to win at everything.

4. I have a lot of people in my life who really care about me. I had so much support and comfort after the regional track meet, and I am so grateful for those people in my life.

5. Don't stress so much about things that don't matter in the long run.

But the two biggest lessons I learned were:

1. You don't have to be the best at everything! This is something I have struggled with my entire life, and something I still struggle with sometimes. When I do anything, I want to be the best, and that mindset has caused me a lot of anxiety and sense of defeat for things I really shouldn't have cared about. Coming to a huge college where everyone is very smart and talented, I am so glad I can try something now and not care so much if someone else is better than me. I would have hated college if I hadn't learned that lesson;

2. Rely on God. I tried to get through this trial by myself, and all I did was elongate my pain. I thought I could take care of it and get over it, but often you need someone else helping you. And who better to ask for help from than your Heavenly Father?

I'm sorry this is so long, but I really needed to write this experience down. Whenever you go through trials in your life, remember that they are for your good in the long run. My Book of Mormon teacher told us the other day that "God cares more about your eternal happiness than He does about your temporary comfort." I love that so much, because it is so true! Life is going to be hard sometimes. That's just the way things are. But sometimes it takes that really hard times to see a lesson we really needed to learn. God is looking out for us, and He will teach us what we need to know, and how we need to learn it.